Sent in by John
I grew up with two sisters and a single mother. My mother had very strong Christian beliefs. She wasn't evangelical, but did force them onto the family. We were quite fortunate in that in many respect we had a privileged upbringing, with money for a nice house, school fees, sports opportunities etc etc. In other respects the three of us had to endure the consequences of my mother's strong beliefs and desire that we should share those beliefs, and have our lives run as she thought God intended.
We attended church and Sunday school bible classes regularly, and didn't go to the local church because it wasn't what Mum liked, but went to another much more traditional church. Most of her friends were from that Church and she was active in organising various church events.
We were encouraged to have friends from the church, we were allowed school friends around, but Mum was very selective, and if they didn’t meet her standards they didn't come back. We went to a Christian school so school friends tended to come from a Christian background, but many still didn't meet the standards. We were encouraged to do various church activities, some of which were quite fun, but obviously involved interaction with similarly brought up kids. We went to a church evening youth group, and although it meant going by car Mum willingly dropped us off and collected us just to know that we were associating with other Christian youngsters.
At home things were very intense. In the evening everyday we would all sit down for bible readings or other topical religious based stories, then prayers. Mum would read we had to be silent and still. Many of the early readings came from books which were used by Sunday Schools for children, later the focus was more on bible passages, and there would always be explanations and examples of how we were supposed to relate to the passages.
These were every evening, almost without fail, after homework and dinner. When we got older she would have one of us read the passage. We also had passages to learn and recite ourselves which we were then tested on. In retrospect I have realised a lot of it was fear based, all about what would happen if we didn’t do as the bible said.
These sessions were sometimes used to discipline us, since she would raise our misdemeanours in them, and often target whatever we had done wrong with that days readings. If we had misbehaved we would get a lecture, and have to explain back how we had 'sinned'. Whoever had misbehaved was punished. Initially bending over Mum's knee with a ruler, then later bending over a chair for the cane across our backsides. Punishments were frequent. The three 'Ds' were the worst, dishonesty, disobedience and disrespect and punishments for these were always given on the bare backside. We all received the cane on our bare backsides until 16 years old. Finally we would all say more prayers asking for forgiveness.
I cant remember not having these evening sessions and they continued until my youngest sister had left home, and if I was home from college I would still join in. When she left home they turned into my mother and older sister (who lived at home until her mid 30s) prayer sessions.
As a teenager I started to question our religion. Mum calmly set about a long lecture one evening, attempting to put the fear of god into us with talk of us being punished by God and how we would all go to hell if we didn't believe. Completely fear based, nothing about good Christian values or any positive aspects to the way we were being brought up. Later when I took things further and refused to learn a bible passage the lecture was backed up with the cane.
You might think that I would have rejected the church and religion on the basis of that upbringing alone, but I didn't.
College would have been the ideal opportunity to back away, but at first I didn't. I kept going with the flow, because by that time I had quite a social life based around other teenagers from the church, which I enjoyed, and in part because I was still scared of my mother's reaction. I might have been too old for the cane by then but the reaction would have been horrific. I still went to church when I was home, and joined the Christian Union at college, and played an active part in it. This delighted my mother.
The other dimension was the girlfriend. My first serious girlfriend was a committed Christian from the church at home. She had joined the church recently, and had quickly become very active in it. My mother knew her and 'approved'. She visited me at college and I made frequent trips home to see her.
So to make my escape I had to 1) risk many friends abandoning me, 2) risk the wrath of my mother and older sister, who showed no sign of questioning religion, and 3) certainly lose the girlfriend. I suspect that it is this fear of rejection that keeps many who would otherwise question their belief within the church.
Number 3) happened anyway, for other reasons, but still it was easier just to go with the flow. In fact through the CU group at college I started to see another side to my religion that was far less based on fear of God. I didn’t question the beliefs, but did question the way I had been brought up and my mother's interpretations.
My younger sister was the first of the family to reject the church. She, my mother and older sister battled constantly when she was in her mid teens, after I had left for college. My older sister by this time was just as strong in her beliefs as my mother (though twenty years later has moderated somewhat).
As my life outside the church developed more I really started to question the meaning of it all, and start to think about many of the contradictions between the bible as I had been brought up with it, and what I started to feel was decent caring behaviour. I won't list all those contradictions, but all of a sudden I just started to think differently. As soon as the fear of losing so much began to subside as I developed my parallel life I was quite able to see far more clearly and make my own choices.
My mother meanwhile still lives in fear, but doesn't have the opportunity to instill that fear in others!
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)